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POSTSEASON MAGIC CONTINUES FOR WILLIAMS

NEW YORK -- The Yankees were five outs from defeat Sunday night. Center fielder Bernie Williams wouldn't let it happen.

Before Alfonso Soriano became a ninth-inning hero, Williams played the part of his setup man in the eighth.

Williams' opposite-field solo home run off Arthur Rhodes tied the game at 1-1, setting the stage for Soriano to give the Yankees their 3-1 win with his homer an inning later.

Williams worked the count full against Rhodes before connecting. A few pitches earlier in the at-bat, he drove a long foul ball to right field. He made no mistake on the 3-2 pitch, belting it over the wall in right.

"I just tried to keep it simple," Williams said. "I knew that he was throwing a lot of hard fastballs, so my plan was to try to relax and get the good part of the bat on the ball. I was just blessed enough that it went out.

"He throws a hard fastball," Williams added. "You don't want to swing too hard so you don't roll over and hit a ground ball to shortstop. My plan was to stay inside, keep my hands inside of the ball and hit it away."

Williams has been brutal in the World Series in his career (batting .141) but has been magic in the ALCS (.365 with five home runs). He has two walkoff home runs in this round, winning series openers against Baltimore in 1996 and Boston in 1999.

"Sometimes Bernie looks like he has some at-bats that don't make sense for his ability," said manager Joe Torre. "Then all of a sudden when something needs to happen, it's like there's a certain amount of magic that's tied to him. We all expect it, and he's never let us down."

Williams' home run Sunday extended Rhodes' litany of ALCS failures against the Yankees the last two seasons.

He was the losing pitcher in Game Two last year as New York exploded for all of its runs in the eighth inning of a 7-1 win. Then in Game Six, Rhodes gave up David Justice's three-run homer in the seventh that allowed the Yankees to take the lead for good in a 9-7 victory that clinched the series.

The five no-hit innings by Seattle starter Paul Abbott were the most by a starter in ALCS history, but they were ugly. Abbott walked eight batters and spent most of his stint in trouble, not the norm for a pitcher throwing a no-hitter.

Had he ever been in a comparable situation before?

"Just when I was walking a high wire in (Las) Vegas one time," Abbott said dryly. "It wasn't the most pleasurable of outings out there being in that situation in Yankee Stadium with guys on base all the time, but I stuck to my game plan.

"I really didn't have anything working that I could rely on," Abbott said. "I just threw everything at them I had. . . . I didn't feel overpowering. I didn't feel like I had a great curveball, slider, changeup, anything. I just threw them all up there."

Soriano's home run was the Yankees' fourth walkoff special in ALCS play. Williams has his two and the fourth was Chris Chambliss' Game Five series-winner in 1976 against Kansas City. . . . The teams combined for an ALCS-record 15 walks (10 by the Mariners). . . . Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 3, ending his eight-game postseason hitting streak. . . . Bad news for Mariners fans: The Yankees are 9-0 when holding a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series, and only two teams (Toronto in 1985 and California in 1986) have blown a 3-1 lead in the ALCS. . . . New York pitcher Roger Clemens struck out seven, snapping a tie with Jim Palmer for the ALCS career strikeout record. Clemens has 53, Palmer had 46 from 1969 to 1979. . . . Sunday's celebrity watch included a full lineup, led by regulars Billy Crystal and Mayor Rudy Guiliani. Also in the house were NBC's Tom Brokaw, Donald Trump, Sen. Charles Schumer, opera star Placido Domingo and former Beatle Paul McCartney.

The Yankees are hitting only .236 in the ALCS, with Derek Jeter (.143) and David Justice (.154) among the offensive no-shows. Starting pitching has been the reason the Yankees have a 3-1 lead.

"Obviously it doesn't matter who we have on the hill, we've got to score some runs," Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill said. "We haven't given our pitchers any margin for error."

But Jeter said he's not worried about the lack of offense.

"I don't care if we score one run (today)," he said. "As long as we win."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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